Fake Registration Push Draws Shrugs, Watchfulness

The anonymous folks behind the BugMeNot Web site have a message for online advertisers, and they’ve started an online petition to collect signatures of like-minded Web users. The “Internet Advertiser Wakeup Day” message? Web site registrations are “pointless” and the data they collect are “dubious.”

“Advertisers are sold demographic data or products based on this data,” said an anonymous BugMeNot organizer in an email interview. “The idea is to highlight the flawed nature of what they are buying and get these sites to move on to a more sustainable and responsible business model.”

The petition’s signers, which numbered 525 at press time, pledge to register an account using false information at one or more of ten prominent Web sites on November 13. The sites include the online presences of the New York Times, the New York Post, the Washington Post, the Atlanta Journal Constitution, and the San Jose Mercury News.

BugMeNot lets people share false registration data, which could frustrate publishers’ attempts to serve targeted advertising. According to its operator, the site attracts around 50,000 unique visitors per day and contains false logins for nearly 84,000 sites.

So far, publishers are largely shrugging off BugMeNot’s significance, but they’re keeping an eye on the phenomenon.

“Traffic to NYTimes.com through bugmenot passwords has been negligible,” a spokesperson for NYTimes.com told ClickZ News. “We do, however, continue to monitor the usage.”

Representatives of WashingtonPost.com and AJC.com didn’t respond to inquiries about the petition by press time.

Though a petition that garnered only 525 signatures would be easy for publishers and advertisers to ignore, the BugMeNot organizer feels it’s “a pretty good result for something that launched several days ago with two and a half months to go.” Word of the petition has already hit at least one prominent blog, but it remains to be seen whether the idea will gain more momentum before November 13.

Shanthi Sitterud, director of media at Avenue A/Razorfish, said while this one act of online activism may not move the needle, the sentiment is something media planners should keep an eye on. Sitterud notes it’s important for advertisers to look at what’s behind user frustration. She says consumers seem to be upset both with the intrusiveness of registration questions and with the time it takes to register.

“As a media planner or publisher or one of our clients, you address either of those things or both of those things,” she said. Sitterud suggested offering users incentives — such as coupons or free gifts — that they can only receive via an accurate email or postal address.

Advertisers and publishers must strike a delicate balance as consumers gain more control over media, said Pete Blackshaw, CMO of Intelliseek, which measures consumer sentiment online.

“There’s plenty of data and research to suggest there’s heightened sensitivity to advertising. That’s only going to continue as advertising continues to push the post-TV ad model, which is largely unknown,” he said. “In this case, there’s heightened sensitivity about how much information consumers need to volunteer to allow you to be an effective advertiser. There’s just going to be a constant tension that everyone needs to manage.”

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